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The Re-Ordering of the Church of St Michael the Archangel, Emley, Nr Huddersfield.

The Grade I listed church at Emley dates from the beginning of the 14th Century when stone from a demolished Norman church was reused to build a church in the Perpendicular fashion.  The stone slated roof is supported by queen post trusses with tiers of curved wind bracing.  A stout 15th Century west tower affords fine views over the former coal mining village and nearby hillsides dominated by the television transmission mast at Emley Moor.

In the 17th Century small chapels, galleries and box pews were added and large windows inserted into the north and south walls together with a panelled wooden ceiling over the chancel.  Between 1874 and 1880 the church interior, which had fallen into disrepair, was again re-ordered whereby the galleries were removed and the box pews replaced by  benches.  The walls were stripped of decayed plaster and the rough stone strap pointed.  A chancel screen, choir stalls, organ and coal-fired heating system were introduced.

By the 1990’s after more than a century, the interior was “tired”, unwelcoming, cold and damp and cluttered with poor quality furnishings and fittings. Emley had become a commuter village and the scruffy parish church was in sharp contrast to the smart new houses being erected nearby.    The time was ripe for change and the arrival of a new priest-in-charge and a retired architect first as treasurer and then as church warden was the catalyst for a process that after ten years would result in a complete reordering of the interior. 

But firstly money needed to be raised for essential repairs to the roof and external stonework and replacement of the antiquated lighting system, any residual monies from the appeal fund being used for minor alterations, such as the provision of a small sink and water heater, in place of the old tap and bucket.   Since then a new Millennium peal of bells in a steel frame was installed in the tower, match funding being provided by the architect/churchwarden acting as project manager, the volunteer labour of church members, a small repair fund and generous donations.

Until 2003 the church owned a modest hall across the road from the churchyard.  This was little used and had become increasingly run-down.  At least £70,000 would need to be spent to up-date the building and meet minimum access requirements.  The PCC had no funds sufficient for that purpose.  Furthermore any improvement to the hall would not have met the need to provide modern facilities within the church building.  A sale of the hall released substantial funds that together with other monies available made a thorough and complete re-ordering possible.

The PCC resolved to create facilities appropriate to a church in the 21st Century that would not only augment and assist their central purpose of worship and mission, but would be sufficiently flexible to provide a valuable resource for the whole village.  It was clear that with only 275 square metres of floor area available that much duplicate usage would be required of the design.  Drawings prepared by the churchwarden were used in year long consultations with English Heritage, the various conservation societies, the Diocesan Advisory Committee, the PCC and villagers, before an application for a Faculty could be made. The design sought to maintain a sense of continuity by retaining and reusing the most important and familiar fixtures, such as the pulpit  with tester, ‘tulip’ font and screens and above all not to interfere or conflict with the historic fabric, nor alter the exterior of the building.  European oak was to be used for all joinery  and a level yorkstone floor with embedded warm water under-floor heating laid over the existing thus replacing the existing noisy and inefficient warm air system in floor trenches and avoiding disturbance of old ledger stones and possible graves

SBP Architects were appointed executive architects to obtain tenders based on drawings and specification, statutary approvals and to administer the contract.  The churchwarden acted throughout as project manager, clerk of works and handyman.  Having arranged to hold Sunday services in the village school the church closed after Christmas 2004.  Church members and friends stripped out all unwanted fixtures and broke up the organ and pew platforms.  The pew benches were sold to villagers.  The old stone floor now revealed was recorded and drawings with photographs and transcriptions of ledger stones were deposited with the county archives.  

The empty building was handed over to local firm, Holroyd, Brook & Eaglands, who were responsible for all building work, joinery, plumbing, heating, electrical services and decorations.  The three month contract was completed on time and within budget.  Thereafter a further month was occupied by the digital organ installation, sound & audio systems, deliveries of furniture and equipment, and a thorough clean, including washing the stone walls and carefully making good previous damage.  

On entering the church from the porch the whole ancient structure is now revealed. Shallow steps lead down to a gathering place separated from the main part of the nave by the relocated choir screen.  In the ground floor of the tower behind a remodelled oak screen are a parish office/vestry, a unisex disabled persons’ toilet and a staircase leading to a new bell ringing platform which doubles as a children’s area during services.   In the end of the north aisle is an oak panelled counter concealing the kitchen and cleaning facilities, the cupboards containing 150 of everything in neat storage boxes.

Beyond the screen, apart from the relocated font and the pulpit everything is moveable, including the digital organ and the altar rails.  The original tiny vestry has been racked out for general storage and also doubles as a choir vestry.  A disciplined approach to putting things away is very necessary.  Removal of the pipe organ has opened up the length of the north side of the church and created a useful sized Lady Chapel for occasional services. 

There was a joyous return to the church followed by open days and celebrations culminating in a service of rededication conducted by the Bishop of Wakefield.  Since then the church has been host to thousands of visitors for fund raising activities, concerts, recitals, coffee mornings, luncheon clubs and exhibitions, in addition to the regular imaginative worship and occasional events like Passover meals, Children’s Days and Christingle. On one weekend the chairs and tables were rearranged four times! 

And today? In 2015 after ten years of respectful use, the quality finishings look almost as good today as when they were handed over.  How was it generally received?  As one opponent farmer remarked at an open day “Thar shoud av dunnit long ago”.  How much did it cost?  A little short of £180,000 including all furnishings and equipment.


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