Tower Repairs 1825 AD

Of the many repairs which have been carried out to the church tower and spire before the current work, none could have been more spectacular than those carried out in 1825.

“Early in August” reported the Nottingham Journal that year, “part of the stone ball under the weathercock gave way, and fell down upon the tower.” The Newspaper refrained from mentioning this at the time - “lest it should cause unnecessary alarm among the congregation assembling in the place for divine worship… the fall of the rest of the ball was apprehended every hour.”

A famous local steeplejack named Wootton undertook the task of removing the remainder of the ball. It was estimated that the height from the base of the tower to the summit of the spire was 150 feet. Assisted by several of his workmen, he ascended the steeple on the North-North East side. Mr Wootton drew up a 30 foot long ladder at the base of the spire, and with the use of iron clamps, positioned two further ladders “by which means he gained the top.” The whole operation scarcely occupied two hours.

“As soon as Mr Wootton had fixed his foot firmly on the top, he took off his hat and spread out his arms, as a signal to the ringers, who immediately commenced ringing, whilst the people below cheered him. Many, however, viewing his situation with alarm, silently withdrew.”

“Mr Wootton, by a blow of his hammer, separated the piece of the ball that remained, from the spindle, and brought it down, also the weathercock. The spindle he hurled down over the battlements into the churchyard. On examining the top of the spire, he found it to be in a very bad state, and he has since thrown down a considerable portion of the stones which were going fast to decay.”

The year 1789 was found to be stamped on the tail of the weathercock, which in that year, had been put in position by Mr Wootton’s father. “Many of the inhabitants remember the senior Wootton beating a drum on the top of the spire, and tying ribands on the weathercock, when he fixed it up.”

By mid-October 1825, Mr Wootton had completed the repairs. He took down several yards of the spire and replaced it with solid masonry, cramped together with copper, which was thought to be less liable to corrode. He also pointed the spire. Not the least accident happened to him or to his assistants during the work, which “was carried out without scaffolding, or any other support than a swing ladder, fastened to the top of the other ladders by which he first ascended.”

Late one evening in October Mr Wootton “ascended to the top, with the vane, to which were appended various coloured ribands, and was seen standing in the most perilous position, waving it about… He then gave a signal to the ringers, when the bells set off a merry peal, and he finally fixed it on the spindle.”

Most alarming of all, a short time before “Mr Wootton ascended the ladder to a considerable height, with his grandson, only three years old, by way of initiating him in his infancy… and of shewing to the world that the race of steeple builders was not likely to become extinct.”

Michael Payne
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th September 2001